One look at Penrith Council’s Ordinary meeting on Monday night was enough to demonstrate how seriously it’s taking its response to COVID-19.
Rather than sitting at their normal spots, Councillors and Council officers were spread out across the chambers at least 1.5 metres apart, hand sanitiser or anti-bacterial wipes at the ready.
In his Mayoral Minute, Mayor Ross Fowler acknowledged the situation was evolving daily but said the health and safety of the community was Council’s “top priority”, with social distancing playing a major role.
“We are constantly reviewing our services, facilities and events, with Council implementing a range of operational changes,” he said.
“Council has taken the proactive step of moving all customer interactions to online services or via phone to limit in-person customer interaction during this time.
“From March 24, the Civic Centre will be closed, as will all Council libraries, community halls and facilities, and Ripples.
“Childcare centres will continue to operate noting that the health advice has not changed.”
Fee relief for local cafes and restaurants affected by Coronavirus is also “all but done”, Cr Fowler said on Monday night, with Council set to waive footpath dining charges for a period of time.
Council staff have also been asked to review options around the holding of Council meetings.
“Currently, Councils are prohibited from holdings meetings by video conference however the advice received is that the Minister for Local Government is urgently looking at ways to resolve the conflict that now exists between the requirement for Council to meet and be open to the public,” he said.
Cr Fowler said while Council meetings typically do not involve more than 100 people, there is potential for this to happen but contingencies were in place.
“If this occurs, the numbers in the room will need to be limited in line with distancing protocols,” he said.
“Council has the option if required to begin live streaming of Council meetings, which will enable the public to view the meeting.”
Cr Fowler said any impact on Council services or events will be communicated to the community as soon as practical, with up-to-date information provided on its website and social media.
Meanwhile, there is some doubt over whether September’s Local Government Election will go ahead. The Local Government Minister may push voting back.
Alena Higgins is the Weekender’s Senior News Reporter, primarily covering courts and Council issues.